Of God and Mortal Men: T. C. Cannon
Edited by Ann. E. Marshall Diana F. Pardue (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2017)
Before his 1978 death in a car accident southeast of Santa Fe, T.C. Cannon charted an artistic legacy that resonates well beyond the 31 years he lived. To accompany a retrospective exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix (through April 15), Of God and Mortal Men presents some of his most iconic paintings, prints, and poetry, along with scholars’ efforts to define what influenced him and how he changed Native art. Born in Oklahoma, of Kiowa-Caddo heritage, Cannon rose from poverty to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where his teachers included Lloyd New and Fritz Scholder. He joined a vanguard of Native artists breaking tradition to blend a host of artistic styles. He straddled the traditional-contemporary divide with an empathetic heart. In A Remembered Muse (Tosca), for example, a traditionally clad Native woman belts out an aria next to a Victrola beneath a painting of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.
Cannon often spoke of dying young—a consequence, perhaps, of what he witnessed as a paratrooper in Vietnam. From childhood forward, the bleakest aspects of life surrounded him, but he had finally chosen to live in northern New Mexico, where his soul soared. “I must dwell in places where I am always in awe of God and mortal men,” he wrote in 1974. This book returns the awe, with love. —Kate Nelson
Owl in the Straw Hat
By Rudolfo Anaya (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2017)
Ollie Tecolote doesn’t want to go to Wisdom School, so he flutters away to hang out with his friends. They play video games, steal cigarettes, and generally raise a ruckus while the adults work on the acequias and stock up on piñon nuts. As soon as Trickster Coyote and Luis Lobo figure out that Ollie can’t read, they lead their little acolyte into no end of trouble. Of course, it’s a fairy tale, but one that’s told by the dean of Chicano writing, Rudolfo Anaya, and the happy ending delivers an owl with a thirst for learning.
Owl in a Straw Hat is perfect for young readers moving into books with chapters but still desiring the energetic illustrations of someone like El Moises. Esteemed folklorist Enrique Lamadrid provides a side-by-side Spanish translation to help children of either language learn the other. Northern New Mexico culture shines on every page—and that means, naturally, that an especially wise grandmother saves the day. —Kate Nelson
Stewart L. Udall: Steward of the Land
By Thomas G. Smith (University of New Mexico Press, 2017)
By the time Stewart Udall moved to Santa Fe in 1989, at age 69, he undoubtedly was looking to wind down from a long career. Yet during that “retirement,” he helped radiation victims file claims for government compensation and wrote extensively, including books on the Coronado Trail, Spanish history in the Southwest, the Cold War in relation to atomic power, and the “wagon settlers” and cooperative communities in the history of the West.
To see that as relaxing, you have to understand the hustle and bustle of his earlier career, which Thomas G. Smith details in this book. Attention is given to Udall’s three terms in the House of Representatives, where he was an unrepentant liberal, albeit one who still thought dam-building would be a good idea for his native Arizona. The primary focus, though, is on Udall’s eight years as secretary of the interior under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. While he chafed under the sense of not being part of JFK’s inner circle and mourned LBJ’s increasing focus on the Vietnam War, Udall still spearheaded some of the most significant gains in land protection in this country’s history.
Smith gives a context for the experiences that helped form Udall, including a small-town upbringing in Arizona when horses were more common than motorcars, a line of descent from leaders of the Mormon Church, and service as a gunner in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He also reveals some warts, but still demonstrates why Udall’s conservation record stands on a par with Teddy Roosevelt’s. —Jackie Jadrnak
Gateway to the Moon
By Mary Morris (Doubleday, 2018)
In 1492, Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued an edict ordering all Jews and Muslims off their land, newly unified under a Christian crown. Those who stayed were forced to convert or endure the tortures of the Inquisition. The story of the resulting diaspora, the often tragic fate of conversos, and the lingering remnants of crypto-Judaism in northern New Mexico inform Mary Morris’ novel Gateway to the Moon. Weaving historical and contemporary eras, she grounds her characters’ search for identity in a tale that leaps among the centuries.
Wrenching choices, secretive societies, and brutalities wrought by religious intolerance come to life among characters both fully fictional and based on historical figures. The confiscated wealth of those who were forced to leave helped finance Spain’s colonization of distant lands, including New Mexico. Conversos were among those who arrived, and sometimes their conversions were less than sincere. They quietly carried out their rites, often not telling their descendants what those ceremonies meant. Generations later, Jewish scholars began questioning evidence such as the presence of a Star of David on a Catholic cemetery marker. Since the early 1990s, interest into crypto-Judaism has grown. Morris, a Brooklynite who spent time in Santa Fe as a child, writes with authority and a local’s eye for the people and landscapes of northern New Mexico. —Kate Nelson